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Best Vintage 35mm Camera for Beginner

Devon Grimes , Sep 11, 2010; 03:16 p.m.

I have recently become interested in taking pictures with an old 35mm camera. I am very new to photography. I bought a Petri 7s from Ebay, but the shutters on the lense broke almost immediately. I took it to a camera repair place and was told it's really not worth the money it would take to fix it. So now I'm in the market for another vintage camera. I'm looking for a camera that was made somewhere between the 60s and 80s that will take good quality pictures on 35mm film, but is also not too complicated to use and not too expensive. I'll mostly be using it for pictures of my family and maybe some landscape pictures. I've heard that the Nikon F3 is good. Are there any others I should consider?

Responses


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Stephen Lewis , Sep 11, 2010; 03:48 p.m.

Most cameras from the 1960s-80s can produce good quality pictures, it is really up to the photographer to understand the fundamentals and put them into practice. Take a look at Gene M's pictures....he uses orphan cameras to produce thoughtful pictures of the world around him. I've had wonderful success with $35 cameras and ones costing 20-30x as much. You mentioned the Nikon F3 (yes I have one) - it is a fine camera when paired with the appropriate lenses and finder. The thing to be aware of when using older cameras is the fact that parts may well be worn or damaged and repairs can be expensive. If you can check out cameras locally, physically handle them and see that things are intact and move smoothly, the shutters work properly and the light seals haven't gone all gummy - so much the better. I've bought & sold on the big auction site for over 10 years, and it is rare that I get a camera which has problems...but it is because I've learned to do my homework in advance and ask the right questions before bidding or purchasing, as well as knowing the going values. The Nikon, Canon and Olympus lines typically offer good starting points with lots of availability out there and a wide selection of lenses. Good luck in your search and enjoy whatever you end up purchasing.

Dave S , Sep 11, 2010; 03:54 p.m.

Devon, welcome to photo.net. This question gets asked here once or twice a month, often on the 'Classic Manual Cameras' forum. You might scour those old archives. Here are some boilerplate suggestions.

(a) You will get 100 answers and all of them are right.

(b) Condition is everything. It is far better to get an ordinary model in top condition than a prestigious high-end camera that is worn out or trashed.

(c) My own personal opinion: I would look for a pristine Canon T70, which is a 1980s camera with some programmed automation and a motor, so it's not very 'vintage'. You can get one for like $50 or less, because millions were made, and then put into closets for 30 years. I'm a Canon guy, so that's my standard suggestion, but there are many comparable examples.

(d) Nikon guys will say your F3, also a 1980s camera, is one of the best manual focus cameras ever made. It's a high-end pro camera, so look for one that was owned by a dentist, not by a photojournalist covering Operation Desert Storm.

Jake Watrous , Sep 11, 2010; 04:51 p.m.

When I was beginning, the instructors swore by Pentax K1000s. Other good cameras are Canon F, Canon AE-1, Nikon FM2N and Nikon FE

Andrew Gilchrist , Sep 11, 2010; 04:57 p.m.

There are so many factors involved. The good news is that there probably aren't any really BAD choices. Dave is right that condition is important but just because it looks clean doesn't mean it won't break--a super-clean camera may have been sitting around for twenty years, the mechanical elements may prefer a little exercise now and then.

A few factors to consider, what are you looking for?

  • Exposure automation - manual only vs. full program, shutter, or aperture-priority autoexposure
  • If autoexposure, exposure compensation vs. autoexposure lock or both
  • Depth-of-field preview
  • Film advance motorization - built-in, add-on, or manual advance lever?
  • Autofocus vs. manual focus (I'm assuming manual focus based on your 60's-80's parameter)
  • Flash automation - sync only vs. dedication vs. TTL automation
  • Cost/availability of lenses for the system that you're interested in
  • Size/weight
  • Viewfinder - size, brightness, information available while viewing like shutter speed, aperture
  • Adjustable eyepiece diopter (particularly if you wear glasses when shooting)
  • Metering (though most of the cameras in this timeframe were center-weighted only)
  • Top/x-sync shutter speed. A high x-sync can be better for certain flash applications like daylight fill, and a higher top shutter speed can sometimes be handy for flexibility if you have a faster film loaded in brighter light, etc.
  • Adjustable in 1/3EV, 1/2EV, or 1EV increments? For some applications (for example, slides) this level of exposure precision can be helpful, but is somewhat less necessary when shooting negative film
  • Self-timer
  • Battery dependency, or reliance on difficult to find or expensive batteries. Many older cameras from the 60's and earlier 70's used mercury batteries that are no longer available today. There are some solutions like adapters, having the meters recalibrated to use different voltage, or zinc-air cells which tend to be relatively expensive and shorter-lived. Some cameras cannot be operated if batteries are not good, others might work at just one shutter speed, and others work at all shutter speeds but of course the meter wouldn't work.
  • Lens compatibility with digital solutions if you think you might want to share lenses.
  • Affinity for metal vs. plastic, black vs. chrome, etc.
  • Something else I didn't think of...?

Cameras of this vintage are a relatively minor part of the image quality formula--more important is the film, lens, processing/scanning/printing, and the photographer's ability to put all this together.
Being primarily a Pentax shooter some of my faves are MX and P3N for different reasons, but there are other nice models like KX, ME Super, Super Program, etc. Good info on them here and here.

Scott Murphy , Sep 11, 2010; 06:44 p.m.

A great "starter" 35mm camera would be something like a Nikon FM or FM2. They are outstanding cameras, are built like medium tanks and have a reputation for reliability and most of all, do not become worthless paperweights if your batteries die. Should you choose, there are still motordrives available for them, the MD-12 is a terrific 3.5 fps motor. You have a wide variety of older Nikon lenses available for them, as well as many third party lenses in the Nikon AI or AIS mount.

Jon Robert , Sep 11, 2010; 11:00 p.m.

This decision is easy. Nikon. Canon and Nikon dominate the used market to the tune that 80% plus are these 2 brands. Thus you have a great selection to choose from for camera, lenses and accesories.

Canon old to new compatibility ceased in 1985 "Canon flushed compatibility down the toilet in 1985 when it created a new and completely incompatible system of AF cameras and lenses called EOS. Nothing works together before or after the great divide of 1985." http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/nikon-vs-canon.htm

The Nikon FM2N is probably the best all manual deal you can get. (light meter is an automatic feature of sorts so it is not all manual technically)
The Nikon FE2 is probably the best Manual/automatic camera deal you will ever get. I just absolutely loved my FE2.
The Nikon FM3a combines the best of both and if you can only buy one body it would be my choice. Other wise I would buy one of each of the first two for a 2 body system if you can afford that. The current prices on ebay are reasonable to cheap for what top of the line quality cameras are going for

Clay James , Sep 12, 2010; 01:07 a.m.

Pentax K1000. very simple, shutter knob controls the speed, aperture ring controls the aperture, center the needle light meter. manual everything. Some of the Nikons, Canons and others can go all manual but they are not designed to be shot that way. Canon AE1, designed to be shot in Shutter Priority mode, Why, you may ask, because it does not show what the camera aperture is set to but only what it should be set to. In manual mode, you read the meter, then you set the aperture and shoot. You have to look at the lens to see where it is set. Nikon FG-20 aperture priority, same story. The info in the view finder shows you where the camera needs to be but not where it is at. Minolta X-570, shows what the camera is set to in aperture priority mode and where it needs to be. Pentax ME Super, same, shows both in the view finder.

The Pentax K1000 can be had for little money, usually less than $50 with a nifty fifty on it. The last one I picked up was for $25, fair shape, lens clean and clear.

Mukul Dube , Sep 12, 2010; 02:03 a.m.

One further option is to get a fixed-lens rangefinder camera like the Canonet. All the major manufacturers barring Nikon made equivalent models.

Mark Deneen , Sep 12, 2010; 10:40 a.m.

I would recommend a rangefinder 35mm camera. Here is why:

  1. They are utterly simple to use and yet good ones have excellent lenses and take fantastic photos.
  2. They are inexpensive
  3. They are very easy to focus. Many would say easier than an SLR camera.
  4. They require little maintenance
  5. They are small, light and unobtrusive

Here's a few I recommend (There are many others too):

  1. Yashica Electro 35 GSN (beautiful lens)
  2. Canon QL 17, or QL 19 (great small size camera with nice lens)
  3. Minolta HiMatic
  4. For a more exotic type with interchangeable lens: Canon 7

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